Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream for my Minnesota community January 21, 2013

I HAVE A DREAM for my community of Faribault, Minnesota.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

Skin color matters not during this pinata breaking at the International Festival Faribault held in August 2012.

And that dream is for those who live here to see beyond differences in skin color, language, culture and religion.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

One of my favorite portraits from the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

I dream that someday my neighbors, and I use that term in the general sense of the word, will recognize that we are, no matter our differences, each human beings who deserve respect.

The scramble for candy once one of three pinatas is broken.

No barriers here as Faribault kids scramble for candy at the 2012 International Festival Faribault,

I dream that someday prejudice will vanish.

The ever-changing/growing diversity of Faribault High School as seen in this post commencement gathering outside the school.

The ever-growing diversity of Faribault High School as seen in this post 2012 commencement gathering outside the school.

I dream that long-time residents will begin to understand the difficulties local minorities—Somalis, Sudanese, Latinos and others—face in assimilating into a new culture, a new community, a new way of life.

International flag ribbons were tied to trees in Central Park during the 2011 International Festival..

International flag ribbons were tied to trees in Central Park during the 2011 International Festival..

I dream the descendants of immigrants will remember that their forefathers were once newcomers to this land.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends and Faribault residents, Nimo Abdi and Nasteho Farah, photographed at the International Festival Faribault 2012.

I dream that someday I will speak with a young Somali high school student and the words she shares will not be words of heartbreaking prejudice.

In this file photo, a Somali family waits to cross a downtown Faribault street.

In this file photo, a Somali family waits to cross a downtown Faribault street.

I dream that locals will stop fearing the Somali men who gather on downtown street corners, the street-level front porches of their Central Avenue apartments.

A group of young Somali dancers perform on the band shell stage during the festival.

A group of young Somali dancers perform on the band shell stage during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

I dream that the minority population will no longer be lumped together into the category of those who commit the most crimes within my community.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary.

I dream that all of us, no matter our color, can begin to connect on a personal level. For when that happens, the barriers begin to fall, the differences slip away, and the prejudices vanish.

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I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE you with the impression that Faribault residents are a bunch of racists. We are not. But to claim that we are all accepting of one another, to deny that bigotry exists, would be inaccurate. I’ve heard all too many negative stories and comments, even from friends and acquaintances, about our minority population.

Faribault is an ever-changing community of diversity. One need only drive or walk about town to see that.  While 75 percent of our population is white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanics or Latinos comprise 13 percent and black or African Americans seven percent of our residents.

We can form all sorts of committees, outreach and other groups to ease newcomers into Faribault, to advocate understanding and acceptance. These are necessary and commendable efforts. Yet, if we as individuals do not open our hearts, and that applies both to long-time residents and immigrants, nothing truly changes. We need to connect on a personal basis. For in shaking a hand, greeting one another by name, engaging in conversation, we begin to view each other as individuals, then as friends.

I am not so naive as to believe any of this will come easily or quickly. Change begins with something as simple as a smile, holding a door open, a kind word, an unwillingness to hear a prejudicial comment and then let it slide…

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

We can choose to support the ethnic businesses which are making our community a more diverse and interesting place to shop and dine. I’d like to see minorities actively and visibly involved/represented in the Chamber of Commerce and Faribault Main Street program. How about a campaign to showcase ethnic businesses to locals and visitors?

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful art from Kenya and Somalia at the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

Perhaps our local arts center could connect with minority groups, integrating them into the arts scene via gallery showings, classes, diverse cultural events and the sale of their art in the arts center gift shop.

Ethnic musicians could be featured during the weekly Faribault Parks and Recreation Department summer band concerts in Central Park.

The Faribault Farmers’ Market could invite minorities to vend their ethnic art, crafts and food. The relaxed atmosphere of the Farmers’ Market offers an especially neighborly environment in which to connect people and cultures on a personal level.

My ideas are nothing novel. Perhaps some have already been tried, are in the works or are on the table…

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CERTAINLY EFFORTS ARE being made to reach out to our newest residents, although one of the most valuable assets, The Welcome Center, closed several years ago due to lack of funding. Somali Community Services reaches the Somali population, at least.

A newly-formed group, Faribault’s Task Force on Cultural Diversity, has brought community leaders (including clergy, business representatives, healthcare and law enforcement professionals and others) together to address diversity-related concerns. I contacted Mayor John Jasinski, who is spearheading this committee, for an update, but have not yet received a response.

A woman, without my prompting, took this mask from the table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her.

Without prompting, this woman took this mask from a table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

The nonprofit International Festival Faribault organizes an annual outdoor fest aiming “to promote understanding between diverse cultures within Faribault, uniting the community with music, dance, ethnic foods and merchandise.”

HealthFinders Collaborative, which began with a healthcare clinic for the underinsured and uninsured in rural Dundas, recently opened an additional center in downtown Faribault.

St. Vincent de Paul Center offers financial assistance, food, clothing and other basic necessities to those in need.

Ten Faribault churches have joined to create the Community Cathedral Cafe, serving a free meal from 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

Divine Mercy Catholic Church has a Hispanic Ministry Program that includes, among many other aspects, annual summer masses at two Faribault trailer parks.

Within Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Nile Our Savior’s, a Sudanese congregation, holds Sunday afternoon worship services at 1 p.m in the Nuer language.

Buckham Memorial Library offers a free online language program (Mango Languages) with 40 foreign languages and 12 English as a Second Language courses.

This list certainly is not all-encompassing. Our schools are reaching out, too, through nonprofits like Children’s Dental Services. I expect many individuals, whether via one-on-one tutoring, donations or other gifts are also assisting Faribault’s minority population.

Yet, more can be done. And it starts with each of us, in our hearts, on a personal level.

*NOTE: Some of the organizations listed above are not geared specifically toward assisting local minorities, but rather toward anyone in need, no matter their ethnicity.

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Historic buildings along Central Avenue.

Historic buildings along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IN CELEBRATION of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and his “I have a dream” speech, I’d like to hear:  What is your dream for your community?

And what are your thoughts on anything I’ve presented in this post.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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